Tunisia: 23 killed in terror attacks on tourists

In response, the Tunisian president vowed ‘no mercy’ in the north African country’s ‘war on terrorism’

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At least 23 people were killed in the Tunisian capital on Wednesday, when gunmen armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles attacked the Tunisian capital’s famed Bardo Museum and the parliament compound.

Two gunmen reportedly opened fire at tourists as they disembarked their buses on their way to the museum. Dozens of other tourists were held hostage inside the museum.

The attack has left 20 tourists from Japan, Poland, Italy, Germany, France and Spain, among other nationalities, dead, as well as three Tunisians, including the two gunmen, radio station Mosaique FM reported the health minister as saying.

Several other people were reported wounded in the attack, including three Poles and at least two Italians. The Italian Foreign Ministry said 100 other Italians had been taken to a secure location, the Associated Press reported.

Some of the Italians at the museum were believed to have been passengers aboard the Costa Fascinosa, a cruise liner making a seven-day trip of the western Mediterranean that had docked in Tunis. The Bardo tour was on the itinerary.

The Italian cruise company Costa Crociere on Thursday confirmed that its boat Costa Fascinos had left Tunis at 0055 GMT on Thursday without 13 passengers who had been on board when it berthed in the Tunisian capital.

The cruise company suspended stopovers by its boats in Tunis until further notice.

Gunfire was first heard at Tunisia’s parliament building, which is adjacent to the Bardo National Museum, around 1100 GMT forcing parliamentary committees to suspend their meetings and sprint to safety, reported Al Arabiya news channel.

Lawmakers were ordered to assemble in the main chamber, Islamist MP Monia Brahim told AFP.

Witnesses said a large body of police was moving to evacuate the parliament building and anti-terror units were being deployed as well to the scene.

Reports then emerged announcing that some tourists were killed while others were held hostage inside the museum.

At 13:30 GMT, State television Wataniya 1 reported that “a policemen and two terrorists were killed.”

Earlier, interior ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui told Mosaique FM radio that “a terrorist attack (has hit) the Bardo Museum.”

He said security forces were surrounding at least two militants in the museum in central Tunis, a venue that is often packed with foreigners, the interior ministry spokesman added.

Late on Wednesday evening, in a televised address, Tunisia's president Beji Caid Essebsi vowed to strengthen the nation's army in response, describing the attack as a major tragedy.

"I pass this message to Tunisians, that democracy will win and it will survive," said Essebsi.

"We will find more ways and equipment for the army to wipe out these barbarous groups for good."

"I want the Tunisian people to understand that we are in a war against terrorism and that these savage minorities do not frighten us," said Essebsi, who visited some of the dozens being treated for wounds in a Tunis hospital. "We will fight them without mercy to our last breath."

"These savage minority groups will not frighten us and the fight against them will continue until they are exterminated."

Tunisia, whose 2011 uprising against autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali inspired “Arab Spring” revolts in Egypt, Syria and Libya, has up to now largely avoided the chaos and violence that has plagued those countries.

But Tunisia's armed forces have been fighting Islamist militants who emerged after the uprising.

Several thousand Tunisians have also left the country to fight for militant groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya, and the government is worried about returning jihadis carrying out attacks at home.

The attack is a blow for the country's crucial tourist industry.

The National Bardo Museum, built in a 15th-century palace, is the largest museum in Tunisia and houses one of the world’s largest collections of Roman mosaics among its 8,000 works.